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ever, in even modestly complex watersheds, multiple sources of pollutants made it difficult to unambiguously determine which sources were responsible for the standard violation. One source might insist that the cause of the problem was the discharge from others, or at least that its own contribution to the problem was not as significant as the contributions of others. Neither the available monitoring data nor the analytical methods available at the time allowed the states to defensibly mandate differential load reduction requirements (Houck, 1999).
The 1972 amendments recognized this analytical dilemma and shifted the focus of water quality management away from ambient standards. Instead, all dischargers of certain pollutants were expected to limit their discharges by meeting nationally established effluent standards. Effluent standards are specified in National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, issued by the states to certain pollutant sources and approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Effluent standards were set at a national level based on available technologies for wastewater treatment appropriate to different industry groups (although in certain waterbodies effluent standards more stringent than the technology-based requirement have been required to meet local water quality goals). The shift to effluent standards eliminated the need to link required reductions at particular sources with the ambient condition of a waterbody. Instead, each regulated source was simply required to meet the effluent standard in its wastewater. In the intervening period since passage of PL 92-500, pollutants discharged by industry and municipal treatment plants have declined, and the ambient quality of many of the nation's lakes, rivers, reservoirs, groundwater, and coastal waters has improved.
There were consequences that followed the embracing of effluentbased standards instead of ambient-based standards. First, efforts to measure and communicate water quality accomplishments were often described in terms of compliance with wastewater permit conditions rather than the condition of the waters. Second, effluent standards could only apply to so-called point sources rather than to all sources of a pollutant or other forms of pollution (
Box 1-1). Pollutants from nonpoint sources (derived from diffuse and hard-to-monitor origins such as landdisturbing agricultural, silvicultural, and construction activities) largely escaped oversight. Third, attention to chemical pollutants measured in discharge water came to dominate water quality policy, and the physical and biological determinants of the ambient condition of a waterbody were less frequently considered. A pollutant is defined as a substance added by humans or human activities. In many cases, the condition of a